With a 2-0 loss to Finland, the Swiss came fourth in Group A and will face the U.S. in the quarter-finals. The Finns take on Latvia in the relegation round.
This New Year’s Eve tilt only affected Switzerland’s quarter-final seeding. Relatively speaking, their tournament is already a success. After finishing ninth the last two years, they have a shot at medalling for the first and only time since 1998’s bronze.
The Swiss, who now head to Toronto, are playoff underdogs. They have an all-time record of zero wins, two ties and 20 losses versus the Americans.
“I think the U.S. has such a good team,” said Swiss assistant captain Jonas Siegenthaler. “Good skaters, good skills. If we play like yesterday with heart and everything, we can beat the U.S., but it’s going to be a tough game, for sure.”
The Finns have fared abysmally at the Bell Centre. They came in as defending champions, but were eliminated from quarter-finals contention when Switzerland beat Denmark 5-4 in a shootout. Compounding the shock, the Finnish federation then relieved head coach Jukka Rautakorpi and his assistants of their duties.
New Finnish coach Jussi Ahokas made his World Junior debut against Switzerland, assisted by Tommi Niemela and goalie coach Aki Naykki. Ahokas, who had done commentary for Finnish TV network YLE at this tournament, was originally slated to take over the World Junior team at the 2018 tournament in Buffalo, New York. He led Finland to U18 gold in April.
“I thought our team played really well today,” said Ahokas. “They really wanted to win and show that they can play active hockey, that we can play a fast game with the puck. The boys did a great job.”
Finland’s best-of-three relegation series versus Latvia kicks off on Monday. It’s the first time in history that a defending World Junior champion has had to play relegation games. The Latvians, who have a 6-29 goal differential, are at their sixth elite World Juniors of all time. Twice they have avoided relegation, finishing eighth in 2009 and ninth in 2012.
Versus Switzerland, Aapeli Rasanen and Eeli Tolvanen notched a goal and an assist apiece. Final shots on goal favored Finland 51-17. Finnish goalie Veini Vehvilainen got his second career World Junior shutout.
“It’s not easy going to relegation after we won last year,” said Tolvanen. “But we just had to be motivated because we want to play in this top tournament too.”
Swiss captain Calvin Thurkauf returned to the lineup after serving a one-game suspension for slewfooting Sweden’s Rasmus Dahlin. Yannick Zehnder, who scored twice against Denmark, sat out due to illness.
“It was hard to watch the game from up top,” Thurkauf said. “It was nice to be back, wear the equipment again and try to help the team. Unfortunately, we lost the game today.”
Finland outshot Switzerland 17-8 but couldn’t click on two power plays in a scoreless first period. Arttu Ruotsalainen hit the crossbar early in the second period.
At 4:35 of the second, Finland’s top line finally broke through. Rasanen went to the net and fluttered a Tolvanen rebound over Swiss goalie Joren van Pottelberghe to make it 1-0. It was the first time Finland had scored since Rasanen’s first-period goal in the 3-1 loss to Sweden.
At 13:53, Tolvanen gave Finland a 2-0 lead with his power-play one-timer. With under three minutes left in the second, Tolvanen was barely stopped by the overworked van Pottelberghe on a breakaway.
“I felt like the whole team was not ready for Finland,” said Siegenthaler. “The best player on the ice was our goalie, van Pottelberghe. Every player played bad today. That can’t be. We have to learn from it and move ahead.”
The Finns finished group play with just six goals. Their lowest-scoring World Juniors ever was also here in Montreal. In 2015, under coach Hannu Jortikka, they totalled eight goals in five games, losing 6-3 to Sweden in the quarter-final.
“I don’t know much about Latvia, but it’s going to be tough,” said Tolvanen. “They’re going to defend and they have a good goalie. It’ll be tough.”